It’s no secret that I’m a fan of David Allen’s Getting Things Done. The tactics he outlines are brilliantly applicable not only to 9-5 office work, but even to our work at home, even to homeschooling.
The primary discipline that Getting Things Done coaches you through is threefold:
- You must capture all that needs to be done in your world — now, later, someday, yesterday, big, little, really ALL — outside of your head. Outside of your head means off your mind if you trust where you have put the data.
- Make front-end decisions about each project’s desired outcome so you know when it is finished. Everything could always be done better; decide before you begin what will constitute “done.” Of course, write it down.
- Regularly review and update your lists so that you can trust them as the reminders they are supposed to be.
So last week we went over having the habit of writing everything down right away and assembling all our random thoughts and ideas onto paper where we can deal with them.
Now it’s time to deal.
Before you can tackle those notes you’ve been collecting, take a few minutes to prepare.
Things you’ll need
While processing, you’ll need these things handy:
- Garbage can (real, virtual, or just ink to strike out lines)
- Email or phone to text handy
- Clean paper for a new, consolidated list
No procrastinating allowed
Right now, all those jumbled thoughts are still jumbled words, amorphous piles of stuff, that is so tempting to just let sit, ignoring and postponing.
Don’t give in. Pick up the list, and start working your way down the page, starting at the top and just plowing through, without skipping around.
Quickly assess your options, make a judgment call, move forward, and come back to the brain dump again to begin it all over.
Be aware of the nagging “I shoulds” on your list
Probably, your brain dump list is chock full of these.
As soon as we attach a “should,” “need to,” or “ought to” to an item, it becomes an incomplete in our minds and a point of potential stress.
Seeing as this is true, it behooves us to be careful about attaching “ought” statements to ideas that might occur to us. We tend to do this all the time, without realizing the pressure and anxiety we are unnecessarily burdening ourselves with. How often do we think things like
• I really ought to organize my pantry.
• I ought to read more to the children.
• If I want to be a real homeschooler, I ought to do more fun projects and crafts.
• My house ought always to be clean.
Now, organized pantries, word-soaked children, crafts, and a clean home are all good things, but they might be the good things crowding out the current best things.
Start where you are, without adding more pressure or guilt.
If we can learn to recognize this tendency to say “should” and stop ourselves from doing so unless we really mean it, we can cut a lot of underlying tension. Instead, we can note the idea or task on a “consider” or “maybe someday” list and eliminate needless guilt and feelings of failure.
You are going to go through all the information and stuff you generated in your collection process, not only sorting it into appropriate categories, but actually eliminating much of it — either by doing it or trashing it.
Here are your categories into which to sort every single item on your list:
- Delete (trash and black ink handy)
- Delegate (phone or computer handy to shoot out the request)
- Defer (the clean sheet ready to hold a “someday/maybe” list and a “next actions” task list)
- Done (just do it and be done with it)
In short, you are going to go through everything on your lists and in your piles and either discard it, do it, delegate it, or defer it.
Try to refrain from sifting through your lists as you process them, dealing with things you like first and postponing those things you’d rather not deal with. In order to achieve calm control, you must deal with those things you’d rather avoid.
So, with each and every object or item or idea, one at a time, going sequentially and methodically through it all, ask yourself
What is it? — a thing? an idea? a task? a project?
What does it mean for me? — something I need to do? Something I need to think about? Something I need to fix or put away?
Am I going to keep it or toss it? (Toss it if you aren’t going to actually do anything to it or with it or about it)
If I keep it, is this a commitment or reference material? (File it if it’s reference material)
If it’s a commitment, will it take less than 2 minutes to complete? (If it will, just do it! Right now!)
If it’s a longer commitment, add it to your “someday/maybe” list or a running task list.
If you have sheets full of random thoughts and notes, as I did on my first round of collecting, strike through list items that you “toss” and that you have completed because they are short and easy. If it is an item that you will need to put into place, circle or highlight it. Or, if messy lists bother you, transfer your notes and only transfer what needs to be placed into the system, perhaps with related notes together. This second option is the one I opted for, and it worked splendidly. And, after processing the first batch, a mere month later I generated yet another sheet full of notes and ideas to be processed.
Yes, Allen admonishes us to dedicate a several-hour chunk both to collecting and processing, but that is simply not in the cards for most of us homemakers, particularly while homeschooling a bevy of young ones. So just spend the time you can working through it. It is true that once you get started, momentum is generated and you really can plow through a lot more than you might think.
Give it the time you can and plod through. It will be worth it!
Tips for the Process
If you’re not going to do it (fix it, assign it a home, complete the task or project, etc.) don’t keep it.
Remember, you want as few loose ends as possible. Honestly evaluate if you are really going to paint anytime soon, to decorate the living room anytime soon, use that coupon before it expires, mend the shirt, etc., etc. Toss out as much as you can, and if you can’t bring yourself to toss it, then add it to you “maybe/someday” list. Instead of putting a big project that isn’t likely to happen soon on your “to-do” list, start a Pinterest board or a page or file of notes just to have a place to jot down ideas and inspiration, without the pressure to have to follow through anytime soon.
You don’t do a project, you do tasks related to a project.
I realized as I was working through my lists that one of my mental blocks was not recognizing that some of my tasks were actually projects. One such task was “reupholster dining room chairs,” but of course that involved measuring the cushions, selecting and purchasing fabric, cutting the fabric, unscrewing all the seat cushions, and so forth. Many of these tasks were contingent, too. I couldn’t go buy fabric until I had measured and calculated how much to buy. I couldn’t take apart the chairs until I had the fabric (and had cut it). Because I hadn’t clarified what steps were involved and what exactly I had to do first, I had unconscious resistance to the project. As you go through your list, be aware of whether you have listed a task (a single to-do item) or a project (a group of related tasks to accomplish one goal).
Acting as a habit
So, after the big brain dump is processed, what does the habit of acting look like?
Just do the small tasks instead of putting them off.
Try not to let the “I shoulds” bounce freely around in your head. If you should, do. If you should later, then right it down. If you don’t really need to feel obligation, tell yourself “No, I shouldn’t, stop bothering me.”
Of course, we have to be careful with this, because it’s very easy for the small tasks – the sand – to fill up our jar and crowd out the priorities – big rocks.
I try to avoid this by giving a time slot a few times a week to the little tasks and knock out as many as I can in as short a period of time. This is also called “batch processing.” So, I let my mail-addressing or phone-calling or filing accumulate and then deal with it all at once, once a week.
But when it’s something like “put it away, don’t put it down” – just do it! You’re giving yourself more work if you bring in the junk mail and then put it in the inbox to be sorted again later. You’re giving yourself more work if you knock over your jar of bobby pins and then walk away to pick it up later (cough – self). As much as you can, clean as you go, deal with things as they come up, and try to avoid letting procrastination become a habit. For some of us, it’s too late for that, but we can still do what we can to break the habit’s hold.